NHS Payouts linked to medication blunders have doubled in six years, fuelling record spending, official figures show.
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said it was “nothing short of immoral” that the health service often spent more “clearing up the mess” of the tragedies it caused, than on the doctors and nurses who could prevent them.
The NHS figures show that in 2019/20, the health service spent £24.3 million on negligence claims relating to medication errors – up from £12.8 million in 2013/14.
The statistics show that in the past 15 years, almost £220 million has been spent on claims relating to the blunders.
Previous research has suggested that medication errors may be killing up to 22,000 patients in England every year.
Blunders occur when patients are given the wrong drugs, doses which are too high or low, or medicines which cause dangerous reactions.
In some cases, patients have been given medication which was intended for another person entirely, sometimes with fatal consequences.
Other studies suggest that one in 12 prescriptions dispensed by the NHS involve a mistake in medication, dose or length of course.
In some cases, patients have died after being given a dose of morphine ten times that which should have been administered, with other fatalities involving fatal reactions.
Confusion often occurs when drugs are not labelled clearly, or when packaging of different medications looks similar.
Last month health chiefs issued a safety alert following a string of incidents involving the dispensation of sodium nitrate, including the deaths of two babies.
Mr Hunt, now chairman of the Commons health and social care committee, said the NHS needed to make far more progress preventing harms, instead of seeing an ever increasing negligence bill.
He said: “It is nothing short of immoral that we often spend more cleaning up the mess of numerous tragedies in the courts, than we actually do on the doctors and nurses who could prevent them.
“What is even more depressing is the chilling effect of litigation which stops doctors and nurses being open about mistakes and therefore makes it more likely the same thing is repeated with all the terrible heartache that involves for another family.”
Peter Walsh from the patient safety charity Action against Medical Accidents said: “Our charity speaks every working day with people whose lives have been devastated or who have lost loved ones due to avoidable harm in healthcare.
Medication errors remain one of the biggest problems in patient safety and the rate of them has been increasing rather than decreasing. It is a false economy not to invest in staff, improved technology and other measures that would prevent most of these errors, which are perfectly avoidable.
“The cost of litigation in itself is eye-watering but the human costs and knock on costs of remedial treatment is much greater. When these incidents do occur they should be investigated properly and compensation offered without the additional costs of litigation that defensiveness and delays bring.”
Officials said recent increases in payments were driven by changes in the way payouts were calculated, with total numbers of claims falling.
An NHS spokesperson said: “While serious medication errors are thankfully extremely rare in the context of the millions of patients treated per year, and the number of claims has fallen by a fifth over the last two years, a medicines safety programme has been established as part of the NHS Long Term Plan and nearly £80 million has been invested in electronic prescription technology, meaning more is being done than ever before to ensure safe medicine use.”